Renegade Rows – How to Get Ridiculously Hard Abs, Part I

The renegade row, developed and named by coach John Davies, is one of the hardest and most effective abdominal exercises. The reason for this is that renegade rows force you to use the primary function of the stomach muscles – stabilization. In other words the exercise teaches you how to keep your body as rigid as possible. You have no other choice but to contract your abs as hard as possible. Otherwise you won’t be able to maintain a rigid body.

Above is a video of the renegade row. Watch and note the three main keys to the proper execution of the movement.


  • The hollow position is key. You need to stay as rigid as possible. Tuck in your butt and squeeze the abs hard.
  • Transfer weight between the arms This the key to the exercise. If you don’t transfer your weight to one of the arms, you cannot lift the other one AND still maintain a rigid body parallel to the ground.
  • Squeeze your but hard Tightening all your muscles is important, but squeezing the butt is especially helpful.
  • Tighten the supporting side leg You want to establish a firm support from which to row.
  • Don’t twist the hips Most of the videos you will see on the web show people performing the exercise incorrectly. Twisting the body or hips makes the exercise easy and ineffective. Avoid this mistake and keep the body parallel to the ground!
  • Row the weight using your back. When doing a rowing motion, always rely primarily on your back muscles (try contracting your armpit muscles) and NOT your biceps. Try leading with your elbow as if your arm was just a hook to which the weight is attached.




  • Low reps are the only option This is not a bodybuilding exercise. It is not meant to fatigue the muscle. On the contrary – it is meant to teach you how to contract your whole body as hard as possible. So perform low reps with 100% focus.
  • 3 sets of 5 are enough Beginners will do fine with just 3 sets. They will progress easily this way while also learning to contract the body and execute the exercise properly.
  • 5×5 also works for advanced athletes Once you get good, you can add a few more sets for more stress on your body.

Action plan

Here is how you can introduce renegade rows in your workout. You have a few choices.

  • Once per week for multiple sets of 2-5 reps. This option is for those who are short on time, but still want to get massive results from the exercise.
  • 3-7 times per week for 2-3 sets of 2-5 reps. This is the best way to get GOOD at doing a certain skill.
  • Once per week for 2-3 sets of 2-5 reps. This option allows you to add other core conditioning drills such as the L-Sit.

Note, go read Part II of the renegade rows series to discover how people mess up with renegade rows. And for more information on strengthening the abs, I recommend reading Pavel Tsatsouline’s excellent book Bulletproof Abs.

34 thoughts on “Renegade Rows – How to Get Ridiculously Hard Abs, Part I”

  1. Yeah, I love these exercises. First time I did them in November, my abs were aching for days. But now when I do them, I don’t get much at all. Should I try balancing with one foot?

  2. Andy,

    this exercise should NOT be done on one foot. You have to stay as rigid and stable as possible. I will probably shoot another video to show more angles. The challenge here is not the rowing motion, but the stabilization of the core/body.

    You can try doing it with heavier dumbbells if it is really so easy for you. The real strong guys at our gym do this with heavy dumbbells – 32 – 40 kgs (70-90lbs). And these guys can do 2xBW+ deadlifts and squats.

    It is easy to swing around the dumbbell and especially to twist the hips. This is not how the exercise is done. I will add a few examples in a new post.

  3. Hey Yavor,
    I’m curious, why the low reps? If it is primarily a core stabilization exercise and not a back exercise, wouldn’t more reps/slower reps be best [basically to increase time under tension]? although a very long set would potentially just turn it into a dynamic plank variation.

  4. Hey Yash, valid questions…

    The answer – it is an exercise for core strength. Time under tension is used for fatiguing and hypertrophy and here this is not the goal


  5. z in order to train your abs contract more, you guys should incorporate this technique inside your rows as well as other workout.
    Credit to Pavel Tsatsouline

    1. squeeze the bar as your life depends on it
    2. brace your abs as your would for a punch
    3. squeeze your glutes as if you want to break the coin in between.

    for more infos read Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Beyond Bodybuilding or Power to The People

  6. Chuck,

    excellent tips man – Pavel is the first one who got the concepts of irradiation (tightening the surrounding muscles in order to make the working muscles stronger) and working on movements and kinetic chains (groups of muscles acting together) to the mainstream fitness world.

    Excellent recommendations buddy!


  7. Nice Article.. Great tip to get RIDICULOUSLY HARD ABS 😀
    But one thing though.. What is one rep ? is one rep doing it on both sides? Right ?

  8. tylersg3,

    I’m lifting here with 50’s I think – but these are actually LIGHT for a guy. I just used light weight so I don’t struggle too much on camera LOL. So ideal weight for a strong dude – 60lbs+


  9. John,

    that’s correct. Alternate both arms for the desired number of reps. So – left-right – this is one rep.



  10. hello, i just started doing these, first i had to do it weightless, then a couple days later i am now on 20 pound dumbbells, is 20 pounds alright for a beginner or is that weak? ah, and incorporating these into my routine, how long until one sees noticeable results?

  11. Luke,

    20lbs is ok for a girl 🙂 or for a beginner man. But for a dude you’d have to do better than this. In 2-3 months you can expect to get really good at these. *And* your abs will become much stronger and more developed. Remember though, weight is not important in the beginning. First leanr to do them perfectly, without moving your body and hips at all. Then start adding weight.

  12. Great article. I introduced these into my ab routine a few weeks ago. Now, I do them a couple of times a week right before planks. This exercise is harder than it looks, but well worth it!

  13. Just done these for the first time, first 2 sets were with 40 lbs and then the last set was with a pair of 50s.

    I must add i think its very important to have round regular plated dumbells. The whole stabilisation issue forces you to keep your body straight or risk a nasty fall.

    I tried doing 4th set with 30lb hex dumbells and found its very easy to swing hips because hex provides stable base.

    So to conclude, my opinion is to do these with round dumbells as they will force you into form and will activate stabilisers more.

  14. Hey V,

    I agree – round dumbbells are the way to go. At home I have a set of adjustable dumbbells – now this is a real challenge because the handles rotate too and make stabilizing hard.



  15. I think me doing alot of different planks prior to trying renegade rows helped me to get into a mindset of correct form.

    Doing dynamic planks, such as wall march or one arm stand plank is a really good way to start doing these.

    BTW, my shoulder strength and stability went up as i was doing these and helped me with my bench press. So kudos!

  16. hey yavor
    how should we be feeling after these – obviously sore the first time, but what about afterwards?
    you say this exercise isn’t to fatigue the muscle – so should we be feeling worked – but not burning – at the end of 5 sets of 5 say?
    if i’m feeling quite hard worked- but not busting – after the first set and then busting at the end of the 5th does that mean the weight’s not enough and what i’m doing is good for endurance rather than maximal contraction?

  17. Tom,

    def no burning. As you gradually get better at these, you will feel whole body tension and whole body fatigue.

    Main thing is to feel those in the abs.

    Weight is not the main thing. The most important thing is to not change your position (hips) when rowing. Not twisting or lifting – even the slightest.

    Then you will be able to feel the abs contract extremely hard.

  18. Yavor,
    Can you apply Pavel’s ladders to renegade rows to get more reps than 15 (via 5 x 3)?

  19. Tom, yes you can but it’s unnecessary. The exercise works well enough with simply doing a few sets of low reps.

  20. Vladimir, try doing it with your feet on a bench when using kettlebells. Or at least have is a goal, because off the ground kettlebells put your body at too steep an angle.

  21. Hi Yavor,
    Can I ask one (last) question?! Does your lower back feel worked after these at all – or does the hollow position/posterior pelvic tilt mean you shouldn’t at all?
    Thanks so much!

  22. Hi Yavor,

    I am using renegade rows, very good exercise!

    I do have a question regarding chest exercise however, perhaps you could help me out.
    I started working out 3 months ago and I find it quite difficult to build that square looking chest. I heard people say that not everybody can achieve that line in the middle, when the right side and left side of your pecs actually meet. I see beginners in my gym that already have muscle in that middle (inner) area, they only need to develope that muscle. However in my case I have a clear gap in that area, in the middle area I can fit my thumb in there. My question is, will I be able to develop that square chest, will my pecs start to expand towards the middle eventually? I am currently focusing on flyes (incline, decline) and peck decks. Any suggestions?


  23. Peter,

    the way your pecs will look fully developed is strictly individual. That said, you make them look good with 1. LOW BODY FAT 2. COMPLETE DEVELOPMENT within your genetics. My recommendation – ignore flies and pec decs for a while and get much stronger (at least 20-30 kgs stronger) on incline bench press.

  24. Wow…I’ve been gaining speed on building a muscular/lean look and I’ve stumbled upon your site. The renegade row is extremely harder than it looks. I’m relatively strong but have a horrible core right now. Thus, I’m throwing this exercise in the mix. I’m finding I’m having to drop the weight just so I can do the exercise right. I love your site man…very informative!

  25. Chris, give it a little time and you will soon be able to train with heavier weights since you are already strong. Good call on starting light.

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